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1 year since Tyre Sampson died on Orlando thrill ride

As of March 20, 2023, Ben Crump, a defense lawyer representing the Sampson family, said companies should be “on notice” following the settlement in Tyre’s death.

ST. LOUIS — On March 24, 2022, a 14-year-old boy from St. Louis County slid off from the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower in Orlando, Florida. His family remembers him as a "gentle giant."

Tyre Sampson, a City Garden Montessori School student, was visiting the Orlando area while on a trip with another family as a participant in the “Bad Boyz,” a nationally ranked youth program based out of St. Louis. Arnaud Jones, who coached Sampson in football, said Tyre would have attended East St. Louis High School last fall. 

On the day of the anniversary, his father Yarnell Sampson visited the site. 

He said, "This year has been totally rough for me, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have to face this every morning and every night and turn to my God asking for strength. I am my son’s voice."

Last year, sheriff’s officials and local EMS went to a call for help at Icon Park, located in the city’s mecca for tourism near International Drive. They found that Sampson fell from the Orlando Free Fall ride, just a year after it was open to the public. EMS took him to a hospital, where he died, sheriff’s officials said. 

According to Orange County Sheriff John Mina, detectives investigated whether Sampson’s fall was intentional or accidental. Due to what police discovered about what happened, “it appear[ed] to be a terrible tragedy,” Mina said.  

Following the tragedy, 5 On Your Side obtained records revealing the middle schooler’s death. According to an operating manual for the Free Fall ride, the weight limit was about 287 pounds. Yarnell Sampson said his son weighed about 325 pounds. 

Lawyers with the Sampson family sought out information on whether negligence about his size played a role in the incident. 

An autopsy later ruled that Tyre died from an accidental death after suffering numerous serious injuries. It also showed Tyre was 383 pounds. 

The Florida Department of Agriculture hired outside engineers who said ride attendants adjusted the sensors on the ride manually to double the size of the opening for restraints on two seats, which resulted in Tyre not being secured in his seat correctly, according to an initial report by the engineers. There were several other “potential contributions” to the incident. 

The Sampson family filed a wrongful death lawsuit shortly after.

Just last week, Sampson's parents reached an undisclosed settlement with the operators.

Compensation ranges from:

  • The loss of earnings of decedent Tyre Sampson.
  • The expense of medical care and funeral arrangements arising from the injury and death of Plaintiffs’ decedent.
  • The prospective net accumulations of the Estate of Tyre Sampson.
  • The mental pain and suffering of Nekia Dodd and Yarnell Sampson as a result of the injury and death of their son.
  • Any and all other damages that the applicable laws allow.

As of March 20, 2023, Ben Crump, a well-known defense lawyer representing the Sampson family in a 65-page lawsuit suing multiple businesses and demanding a jury trial after the tragedy, said companies should be “on notice” following the settlement in Tyre’s death. 

Crump issued a statement with Bob Hilliard of Hilliard Martinez Gonzales, which reads:

“Nothing can ever bring back Tyre to his family, but this settlement speaks to putting entertainment entities on notice that they cannot cut corners in their operations that sacrifice safety. When these companies are irresponsible, it puts innocent lives at risk. With the help of passionate state legislators like Rep. Geraldine Thompson, we will continue working to ensure that a tragic accident like this never happens to another family.”

Nekia Dodd, Tyre’s mother, said she created a foundation for her son called Tyre “Big Tick” Sampson Foundation LLC to support athletic programs and give back to schools. 

Yarnell Sampson also said he's working with operators to collaborate on scholarships to send young men to college. 

The Tyre Sampson Act, or Senate Bill 902, was proposed last February by Florida State Senator Geraldine Thompson, which requires:

"...permanent amusement rides operated for the first time in the state after a specified date to have a ride commissioning and certification report on file with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; [authorize] the department to conduct unannounced inspections; [revise] the circumstances under which the owner or manager of an amusement ride is required to report an accident and under which the department may impound an amusement ride involved in an accident..."

Yarnell plans to testify, and he said, "I look forward to going to Tallahassee and telling my side of the story that I’m a grieving parent."

The amusement park began taking the ride down last week. 

It officially came down on Wednesday. 

Below is a statement from Orlando Slingshot Attorney Trevor Arnold on the one-year anniversary of Tyre Sampson’s death:

“Today, we communicated with Tyre Sampson’s mother, Nekia Dodd, that Ritchie Armstrong through Orlando Slingshot will be establishing a $100,000 donation by contributing $20,000 over five years to the ‘Tyre ‘Big Tick’ Sampson Foundation L.L.C.’ that Ms. Dodd established to support school athletic programs in memory of her son. While we originally expected to contribute to a scholarship, this foundation is more in line with the goals of Tyre’s family. We know this donation is a very small gesture compared to the unexplainable tragic loss of Tyre one year ago today. But, it is our hope that this contribution will bring some comfort to Tyre’s family and serve as a positive reminder of Tyre for those student athletes it supports.” 

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